William Ball Gilbert

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William Ball Gilbert
Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
In office
March 18, 1892 – April 27, 1931
Nominated by Benjamin Harrison
Preceded by new position
Succeeded by William Denman
Personal details
Born July 4, 1847
Lewinsville, Virginia
Died April 27, 1931(1931-04-27) (aged 83)
Portland, Oregon
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Julia West Lindsley
Alma mater University of Michigan

William Ball Gilbert (July 4, 1847 – April 27, 1931) was an American attorney and jurist from Oregon. He served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in from 1892 until 1931. A native of Virginia, previously he was elected to the Oregon Legislative Assembly.

Early life[edit]

William Gilbert was born in Lewinsville, Virginia on July 4, 1847 to Sarah Catherine Ball and John Gilbert.[1] William was named after Colonel William Ball, the grandfather of George Washington's mother Mary Ball;[2] he was related to the colonel from his mother's side of the family.[2] He went to local private schools in Lewinsville, located in Fairfax County, and to schools in neighboring Falls Church.[1]

The Gilbert family had pro-Union sympathies, and moved to Ohio before the Civil War.[2] Gilbert attended high school in Zanesville, Ohio before moving to Williamstown, Massachusetts to attend Williams College. He graduated from Williams in 1868 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.[1] After graduation he went to the Amazon Basin on a scientific expedition followed by a geologic expedition to Ohio for two years.[2] After giving up on a scientific career, he earned a Bachelor of Laws in 1872 from the University of Michigan Law School.[1] Gilbert was admitted to the bar in Michigan that year, and then moved to Oregon.[1]


In 1873, he was admitted to the Oregon bar and began practicing law in Portland with H. H. Northrup.[1][3] On September 3, 1873, Gilbert married Julia West Lindsley.[1] In 1876, he went into a legal partnership with future Governor of Oregon A. C. Gibbs, but only for one year before entering into a partnership with Northrup.[1] Gilbert remained in private legal practice in Portland until 1892, working with John M. Gearin and Zera Snow.[1][3]

Political career[edit]

In 1888, he was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives.[4] A Republican, he represented Portland, serving only during the 1889 legislative session. Gilbert was nominated on February 23, 1892 to a newly created position on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit by United States President Benjamin Harrison.[3] His nomination to the court was hampered when one of the associates in his firm, future judge Wallace McCamant, wrote a letter to a friend expounding that McCamant would gain financially from Gilbert's election to the court.[2] After it was explained that the financial gain had to do with McCamant becoming partner in the firm if Gilbert left, and not something illicit, the nomination moved forward.[2]

The United States Senate confirmed him for the seat on March 18, and he received his federal court commission that same day.[3] He was assigned to the federal courthouse in Portland, now named the Pioneer Courthouse.[1] While on the court he was responsible for many important decisions, while also serving as the senior ranking judge on the court for 34 years.[2] These including cases concerning the scandal over gold mining in Alaska, a controversy over Leland Stanford's estate and Stanford University, a lawsuit over the Teapot Dome scandal, and the Ninth's opinion in what became the Olmstead v. United States wiretapping case.[2]

Gilbert also worked alongside Joseph McKenna, who would later become United States Attorney General before nomination to the United States Supreme Court. Gilbert openly opposed McKenna's nomination to the country's high court based on Gilbert's poor view of McKenna's legal abilities.[2] After Gilbert's death, William Denman replaced him on the court.[5]

Later years[edit]

From 1893 to 1918 he lectured on constitutional law at the University of Oregon School of Law.[3] In 1898, he received an honorary doctorate of laws from his alma mater Williams College.[1] In Portland, Gilbert was a member of the Arlington Club, while in San Francisco (home of the Ninth Circuit Court) he was a member of the Southern Club.[1] Described as charming and industrious, he was a very private individual who also refused to ride in automobiles, which he disdained.[2] William Ball Gilbert died in Portland on April 27, 1931 at the age of 83.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Colmer, Montagu, and Charles Erskine Scott Wood. 1910. History of the Bench and Bar of Oregon. Portland, Or: Historical Pub. Co. p. 139.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Frederick, David C. (1994). Rugged Justice: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the American West, 1891-1941. University of California Press. Berkeley. pp. 19-26.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Judges of the United States: William Ball Gilbert. Federal Judicial Center. Retrieved on February 14, 2008.
  4. ^ Oregon Legislative Assembly (15th) 1889 Regular Session. Oregon State Archives. Retrieved on February 14, 2008.
  5. ^ Judges of the United States: William Denman. Federal Judicial Center. Retrieved on February 14, 2008.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
new seat
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Succeeded by
William Denman